Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The West Wing, A Job I Used to Have, and An Ancient Way Forward

Written by: on April 10, 2024

“It’s Not The Battles We Lose That Bother Me, It’s The Ones We Don’t Suit Up For.” – Toby Ziegler

This quote is from a character in one of my favorite shows growing up, The West Wing. In this American TV drama, witty dialogue, thoughtful complex situations to solve and lessons on leadership shaped me as a young adult. Every Wednesday night I would finish my homework in time to watch the show with my mom (because I’m so old that a show was only on once a week).

Then, I had the opportunity, after completing my undergraduate degree, to work at the Oregon State Capitol in the Senate chambers as the Sergeant-at-Arms, a very militant title for someone who is a glorified floor manager, opening doors for senators and legislative aids and making sure the press and public stayed in their designated areas. It was a great job, and it gave me a close-up window to the world of politics, even if it was only state politics, and several of my favorite people I met during that time have gone on to become Oregon Governors and members of the US congress.

What I noticed about some of my favorite leaders was the way that they took genuine interest in people’s lives, cared about their colleagues across the aisle and were absolutely ruthless in obtaining the agenda they believed was right. This seemed like a dichotomy to me, someone who believed in being nice above all things, was resistant to conflict and had learned to go along to get along. But they had learned the art of attacking bad ideas instead of “bad people”.

As politics and culture have become increasingly divide, I wonder if we must learn again how to argue against bad ideas instead of bad people. As we consistently vilify and mistrust those whose ideas are different from our own, our tribalistic mindsets are pushing us farther and farther away from one another.

Matthew Petrusek’s book on Evangelization and Ideology is a helpful, though voluminous, work that gives the reader a framework for engaging with some of the bad ideas that are most prevalent in our society today. He invites us to become “happy warriors”[1] in the battle of this time and place for the Good News of the Gospel to actually have an impact on people’s lives and our culture. He astutely observes that, “what unites all political ideologies is that they are all ultimately dead ends—wildly diverse paths through fantastically different terrain that all end up smacking into the same wall.”[2]

In his book, Petrusek outlines four different ideologies and traces their roots in philosophical thought, their epistemological premise and ultimately their insufficiencies in having a viable future in the relation to the Good News of Jesus. His detailed outlines are worth revisiting further, but they remind me of two other works that also have four categories for understanding our current political climate. In the summer of 2021 George Packer wrote in the Atlantic about the different stories of America that are being told today and how those stories shape the potential futures, as well as the present conflicts, that we feel so acutely in this time and place in our American culture.[3] Packer outlines four “Americas” that are summarized well in a new book by Joshua Ryan Butler called, The Party Crasher.

  1. Smart America: the worldview of Silicon Valley and the professional elite, who believe we can use science, technology, and strong institutions to change the world.
  2. Free America: the worldview of the suburbs, with an emphasis on free markets and hard work, dedicated to caring for whatever small patch of the world we’re on and contributing to a thriving economy.
  3. Just America: the worldview of the urban core, with an emphasis on citizens as members of identity groups that inflict or suffer oppression with a call to dismantle unjust systems.
  4. Real America: the worldview of the Midwest and rural areas, with an emphasis on loyalty to deep roots and protection from outside threats.[4]

While these categories from Packer are broad-stroked summaries, Butler utilizes these four Americas as way to generate a list of positive attributes about each of these types of America and Butler models a potential way forward for us when it comes to being the “Happy Warrior that Petrusek invites us to be. Butler’s reframe of Packer’s Americas are:

  1. Progress (versus “smart”): to speak to the upper left’s strong belief in the value of science, technology, and institutions to change the world for the better.
  2. Responsibility (versus “free”): to speak to the upper right’s strong belief in hard work, family values, and personal ownership to build flourishing communities.
  3. Identity (versus “just”): to speak to the lower left’s strong belief in self-expression, anti-discrimination, and a recognition of others’ unique stories to tackle oppressive legacies and build a more just society.
  4. Security (versus “real”): to speak to the lower right’s strong belief in loyalty, local identity, and protection from external[5]

While I look forward to digging into Butler’s book more (though I’m not a fan of everything he has written) what I appreciate about his work is that he is taking an appreciative stance on some of these versions of American that have positive qualities worth highlighting. This may be the place where we can find common ground and connect with these different “Americas” or “Ideologies” in an effort to engage, shape and, in Petrusek’s language, “evangelize” those who have found themselves trapped in these various versions or narratives.

What Petrusek, Packer and Butler seem to all agree on is that staying in one of these quadrants or categories exclusively is a death warrant. The Gospel invites us to something deeper that transcends and overcomes the tribalism and division that we are seeing in our culture today. Butler powerfully says, “Where does the church belong? The Church belongs to Jesus.”[6]  Packer suggests that, “ a way forward that tries to make us Equal Americans, all with the same rights and opportunities—the only basis for shared citizenship and self-government—is a road that connects our past and our future.”[7]And Petrusek contends that we must “effectively understand and respond to the contemporary ideological battlefield.”[8]

When the Apostle Paul was writing to the early church in Corinth, who itself was full of divisions and factions (perhaps four as well) he reminded them of the “power of Christ crucified.”[9] It was the power of Jesus and his self-sacrificing love that would ultimately upend all of the political and social structures of the world. We must learn to preach and practice Christ-crucified again in our churches, homes and public spheres. The cross was a political statement in and of itself, a radical commitment to embrace suffering and disgrace that ultimately “disarmed the powers and authorities”[10] and put God at the center of what is sovereign and salvific in the world. Its why, for me, I walked away from the world of politics and instead chose to pursue the vocation of pastor. But as I walk with a congregation through this current climate and election cycle, may I, embrace the call to be a “Happy Warrior” who joyfully speaks the truth in love, willing to embrace the cross and trust that the Truth will set us free.



[1] Petrusek, Matthew. Evangelization and Ideology. 451

[2] Petrusek. 449.

[3] George Packer: The Four Americas – The Atlantic

[4] Butler, Joshua Ryan. The Party Crasher. Page 7.

[5] The Party Crasher. 9

[6] The Party Crasher. 22.

[7] George Packer: The Four Americas – The Atlantic

[8] Evangelization and Ideology. 3.

[9] 1 Corinthians 1:23

[10] Colossians 2:15

About the Author


Ryan Thorson

Follower of Jesus. Husband. Father. Pastor. Coach. I am passionate about helping people discover the gift of Sabbath and slow down spirituality in the context of our busy world.

9 responses to “The West Wing, A Job I Used to Have, and An Ancient Way Forward”

  1. Diane Tuttle says:

    Hi Ryan, Ok, I have to start by saying I too am a West Wing fan. I agree that Jesus was very political and I appreciate your view of your role with your church members to be the Happy Warrior that speaks the truth in love. Usually when I think of that, I think of talking to someone about something that might not be quite right with either a relationship or action, etc. but it is done from a standpoint that there is a relationship with the person that is real. Was that the context that you were using? And, was their anything from any of the authors that you would consider using in that milieu?

  2. Jeff Styer says:

    Thanks for answering the call to be a pastor and give up your glorious Sergeant-at-Arms job. I recently had a legislative aide to US Senator Sherrod Brown come and speak to my Social Policy class. I was fascinated with all the work that Senator Brown does on behalf of Ohio including, as long as their isn’t a vote scheduled, coming home every weekend to hold round table discussions with people across the state. It is hopeful to know how politically divided the culture was when the church first started. I believe it gives us hope that the church can survive. Thanks for bringing in Baker and Paker, it is interesting to see how other people frame where our country is and how to speak to another to get anything done.
    Yes we need to label things as bad ideas, not bad people.

    If you had to rate or grade your congregation in regards to tribalism, where do you think you might land?I know in my church there is a lot of tribalism that rears its head leading up to elections.

  3. Christy Liner says:

    Hi Ryan,

    I always enjoy reading your posts. I imagine that as a pastor, you get to be in the middle of some messy political topics. How do you help your congregation ‘debate’ rather than ‘fight’? I have seen you set a good example of being a ‘Happy warrior’, but how do you help your congregation do the same?

    Blessings to you as you lead your congregation in tricky times.

  4. Nancy Blackman says:

    Hi Ryan,
    I always appreciate your thoughts and perspectives.

    You bring up a great point—it’s not the bad ideas,but the bad people. Although Petrusek did mention that both can occur: Good people can have bad ideas and bad people can have good ideas (p464). I know, I know … don’t shoot the messenger 😜.

    May you continue to be a happy warrior, Ryan! I will be praying for you.

    Your Toby Ziegler quote reminded me of the time when we lived in Portland, OR visiting an REI store, and Chris, being the native SoCal guy, was trying to figure out what he needed to weather the Portland weather. The salesperson said, “it’s not the weather you need to be concerned with, you just need the right gear.”

    It’s also inspiring me to remember not to be silent because it’s not helpful. What is helpful is to at least show up, geared up and ready.

    As I was reading through Butler’s 4 points, I wondered if Butler and Packer’s points were not necessarily opposing, but perhaps having overlaps. Thoughts?

  5. Debbie Owen says:

    Ryan, I too loved The West Wing! Have you watched Madame Ambassador yet? It’s my current favorite show (and is similar to The West Wing in many of the respects you mention). When I have – or need – a little downtime, it’s my go-to show (I’m part-way through for a second time).

    TV shows aside, I am really intrigued by the “four Americas” by Packer and the reframe by Butler. I appreciate the admonition to focus on bad ideas, not bad people (it gets really personal, really fast these days, doesn’t it?). Unfortunately, I don’t see things changing in the wider culture any time soon. What’s worse, so many of the loudest, least accepting, most self-centered voices come from Christian circles.

    I’m reminded of a quote I saw this week:

    “This is a Christian nation!”
    Jesus: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
    “We need to take back this country for Christ!”
    Jesus: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
    “We need to have the government legislate Christian values!”
    Jesus: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
    Our role as followers of Jesus in relationship to our nation is to be a prophetic witness on behalf of the poor, the powerless, and the vulnerable among us.
    ~Benjamin Cremer


    So learning how to engage with people about Christ in the midst of a political discussion often seems… challenging. Maybe even disingenuous.

    What do you think?

  6. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Ryan, thanks for a thoughtful post. I am not gonna lie; I am struggling with the whole idea of evangelism and politics. This is a book I would have picked up at Barnes and Noble and promptly set it back down. I couldn’t quite decipher if you were in agreement with the premise of the book or not.
    As a pastor, how do you try to help your congregation navigate the current political and cultural climate?

  7. Elysse Burns says:

    Hi Ryan, This was a great post. I especially enjoyed reading about your experience as a Sergeant-at-Arms. I am sure you can put a few of those life lessons into play as a pastor. I completely agree that our tribalistic mentalities are pushing us farther and farther away from one another. What methods have you used as a pastor to create bridges when tribalism is evident?

  8. mm Glyn Barrett says:

    Brilliant mate. You had me at the title. My favourite TV show and I am reading your blog one block from the White House in DC right now.
    How do you envision the Church can effectively engage the diverse ideological landscapes of “Smart America,” “Free America,” “Just America,” and “Real America” without compromising the core message of the Gospel, yet also adapting its approach to be culturally sensitive and resonant in a way that transcends tribal divisions and promotes a more unified and inclusive vision of Christianity? It’s the million-dollar question.

  9. mm Kari says:

    HI Ryan, thank you for the great post. I’m wondering if there is anything you want to change from the reading to build on your journey as being a “happy warrior?”

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